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Exercise trial gives breast cancer patients a boost


The EFFECT exercise trial is creating opportunities for patients with metastatic breast cancer to improve their health and wellbeing and make strong connections with others

Cabrini Research has recently established a state-of-the-art exercise lab within the Cabrini Cancer Institute that aims to investigate innovative approaches to improve the health and wellbeing of cancer patients. While we know that exercise can play an important role in managing cancer related health outcomes and improving patient wellbeing, the majority of evidence to date is based on studies involving patients with earlier stage or curative disease.

Over the past year, Cabrini has been involved in recruiting breast cancer patients with advanced disease for one of the largest exercise intervention studies for cancer patients worldwide, the EFFECT trial.

As part of this multi-national study that was funded by the European Union and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), we have been able to provide 35 patients with metastatic breast cancer (from a total of 350 women and men participating worldwide) with the opportunity to receive a  nine month supervised exercise program.

The primary aim of the exercise program is to improve patients’ quality of life and cancer-related fatigue, one of the most common and persistent side effects experienced by patients with metastatic breast cancer.

Patients involved in the EFFECT study receive a comprehensive assessment of their physical fitness, body composition, cancer and treatment side effects, overall wellbeing and quality of life at regular intervals throughout their nine months on study.

Some of the patients in the exercise group have been training together twice a week under the direct supervision of an experienced exercise physiologist at the exercise gym located within the Cabrini Cancer Institute. While working on improving their cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength and balance through targeted exercises, it has also provided them with an opportunity to share their stories, and support each other.

Cabrini’s state of the art exercise facilities.

Alice was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in December 2021. For her, the EFFECT trial has provided the perfect opportunity to focus on exercising.

“My oncologist told me about the trial and I wanted to join immediately as I know exercise helps with the chemo side effects and feeling better overall.”

“I enjoy exercising at Cabrini, as I feel safe there versus going to a gym as an immunocompromised person. I feel stronger from participating in the trial and I also feel I have a better understanding of what I need to be doing to get the most out of exercising.”

Alice says she would actively encourage others to join an oncology exercise trial.

“Just do it! I have really enjoyed my experience. It’s a great opportunity and not as scary as it might sound, even if you haven’t been exercising previously. Everyone has been lovely, and the best part has been making new friends.”

Sharon is another participant who would encourage anyone in her situation to become involved in a trial. Diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in December 2018, she had been looking for an exercise program that was specifically relevant to her diagnosis, and was thrilled to discover this trial and be a part of it.

“I very much enjoy the camaraderie of the other participants in the trial, and the interest and expertise of those who are leading the trial. They continually adapt, guide, and assist us to work toward a constructive and beneficial end result. I have lost weight, but importantly I have increased my muscle tone, which we learnt from my second assessment in the trial.”

Like Alice, Sharon she would not hesitate to recommend that others join a trial.

“If you are in my situation, don’t hesitate to become involved. It will not only be beneficial to you, but the findings will also be very important to the wellbeing of all those diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in the future.”

The outcomes of the EFFECT study will be available next year and hopefully improve the supportive care that patients with metastatic breast cancer and other advanced cancer diagnoses receive.

Dr Eva Zopf, program leader for Exercise Oncology at Cabrini and Principal Investigator on the EFFECT trial said it has been “a great experience” conducting the trial at Cabrini.

“The specialists have been so supportive and engaged in referring patients into the trial, and the participants are so committed. We are looking forward to supporting more cancer patients through our exercise trials at Cabrini.”


To learn more about Cabrini Research visit

The EFFECT trial is part of the PREFERABLE project, which received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant agreement No 825677) and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (2018/GNT1170698).